you ever wished you could watch live television on your laptop? Better yet, how
about cutting edge high definition television? Well it is not only possible, but
also affordable with Pinnacle Systems' new PCTV HD Stick ($79.99). The
PCTV HD system includes the USB 2.0 tuner stick, antenna with magnetic
mount, software with an integrated Personal Video Recorder (PVR) and Electronic
Programming Guide (EPG). Best of all, the over-the-air content is completely free
of charge. Most consumers are dazzled by the video quality offered with over-the-air
high definition programming and with all the major broadcasters on board, there
is no reason not to take advantage of it. Pinnacle's PCTV HD Stick is fully
compatible with Windows Vista and XP Media Center Edition.
Our tests were run on a Sony Vaio VGN-N130G (Core Duo T2050 1.60GHz 1GB 80GB).
We installed the Pinnacle TVCenter 4 software (Version 4.80.1445) and
also Studio QuickStart version 10.5, which facilitates the creation of
media targeting devices such as the iPod or PSP. Studio QuickStart appears
to be a scaled back version of the famous Pinnacle Studio editing software.
There was a time when technology could barely fit 256MB of memory
into a USB stick and now Pinnacle has a complete ATSC and NTSC tuner built into
a single device. This allows for both digital and analog TV reception from a single
device. Since the USB stick is rather wide, a short 1-foot extension cable is
provided to prevent the stick from blocking adjacent USB outlets on the laptop.
When the hardware is mated with the Pinnacle TVCenter 4 software, the system
offers full PVR functionality with the ability to pause, TimeShift and even automatically
record all of your favorite shows in high definition or standard definition without
any service fees. Simply attach the included mini antenna and start watching free
the TV Center 4 software is installed, the Setup Wizard helps the user
scan for local channels. Here in Los Angeles, a total of 30 digital television
stations were detected using the portable antenna included with the system. There
were also 32 internet radio stations found during the scanning process. While
the portable antenna works reasonably well in most cases, there is a significant
improvement in signal quality when using a rooftop antenna. When we ran the same
channel scanning with our huge rooftop antenna we detected 52 digital channels
(20 more). We also found that our reception was significantly better using the
larger antenna, but the point of this review is to see how well the system works
as a portable system. Sitting outside where signal reception is improved worked
quite well with the portable antenna. We also had good results near windows. Reception
dropped significantly in buildings where the signal weakened.
Users can set up folders in the My Favorite TV Channels
list that allows valid channels to be placed inside. The Channel List in
the TV mode will have the custom folder available when channel surfing. This allows
users to group channels based on preference. The channel details are displayed
in the lower right corner along with signal strength and signal quality. Users
can also load or save channel lists that have been created from previous sessions.
A preview window displays the active channel and the details can be edited by
The TVC software included with the PCTV Stick is
quite powerful and has a variety of settings that the user can define. Skip back
and forward time can be defined as well as digital audio output. Video capture
setting and audio/video quality can be also be adjusted. The TV and Radio stations
can be updated through these menus. Video display settings (brightness, contrast,
sharpness, hue, and color saturation) are available as well. The basic electronics
programming guide provides up to 3 days of information.
Once the channels have been determined, it is easy to select any
of the predefined stations. Saving programs is simple and can be set up using
the electronic programming guide. We saved several programs as part of our testing
and they played back well in most cases. The best results were when we played
the video using Windows Media Player. We did find that the Pinnacle TVC software
is not the best way to watch saved content for many reasons. Occasionally we would
encounter a lip sync issue, but stopping the video and restarting it seems to
fix the problem. This may have been due to our slow laptop. We recommend stopping
all unnecessary background tasks to allow the processor to focus on decoding the
video stream. Programs can be recorded directly to DVD or the hard drive.
For those who have not had the pleasure of using Pinnacle's
Studio for editing video content, the Studio 10 QuickStart which
is included with the PCTV HD Stick will provide a taste of its capabilities.
Creating powerful multimedia content is easy using this software which includes
the ability to target portable media players or standard DVD player. Video can
be captured, edited, and then transferred to the target device and format. Menus
and a variety of transitions are available. We were not able to edit high definition
content using our laptop due to limited video memory according to the message
we received from the software. However, standard definition content worked just
The PCTV HD Stick ($79.99) is a great product at an exceptional price.
This is only one of three PCTV HD products being offered by Pinnacle. For
those looking for more, Pinnacle also offers the PCTV HD Pro Stick ($99.99)
which includes a remote and A/V adapter for analog video capture. Finally, the
PCTV HD Ultimate Stick ($129.99) is a higher-end option that includes an
ultra-portable USB 2.0 tuner for HD and SD TV reception and includes a mini remote
control and telescopic antenna. This latter version includes an onboard flash
memory PVR that does not require software installation. Whatever version you decide
to get, you will have a powerful new capability for that mobile machine.